Thursday, October 28, 2010

Thursday Evening at the Central Library ALOUD Program

Arriving at my old stomping grounds at the Central Library downtown, I sat on the patio from the library food court with my half a sandwich and Earl Grey.  Facing the library's west lawn, I watched the outdoor diners at Cafe Pinot and kept company with a few magnificent skyscrapers as their lights began to glimmer at the dusk hour.

The Union Bank building is there.  Its exterior really has not changed much.  Where as many buildings have undergone name changes, like the neighboring Atlantic Richfield buildings and the Library Tower, the Union Bank building is very similar to its photos in 1967 as the one lone high-rise juxtaposed to the last remaining grand old houses of Bunker Hill during the redevelopment era.  Search the LAPL Photo Database for Union Bank photos.


Finished with my sandwich, I walked through the library and ended up at the Fifth Street entrance.  The Bunker Hill Steps are directly across the street.  Next to the Steps is the U.S. Bank Tower, once the footprint of the Engstrum Hotel Apartments.


The Bunker Hill Steps and to its right was the former site of the Engstrum Hotel Apartments.




I made my way back inside and headed to the Mark Taper Auditorium where Map Librarian (and historian) Glen Creason and D.J. Waldie, author and cultural critic, were gearing up for a conversation about Creason's book Los Angeles in Maps.

The one-hour program coming to a close.
Glen Creason and D.J. Waldie were engaging as they immersed the full-capacity audience in the history of L.A. through its maps.  The elegant auditorium was built in line with Fifth Street, and from the side windows you can see the westward flow of traffic on Fifth as well as the cars coming down the steep Bunker Hill terrain at Grand Avenue.

I got my copy of the book signed, and it was time to head home to Whittier.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Pellissier Village Equestrian District, Whittier, Cal.


My routine freeway off-ramp is Peck Road on the 605 freeway south after the interchange from the east 60 Pomona Freeway.  I often noticed a neighborhood peeking through the trees or freeway wall, and one day I decided to make a right turn onto Kella Avenue after taking the off-ramp.

To my pleasant surprise, I came upon a sign proclaiming Pellissier Village Equestrian District.  I drove further and saw a lot of indications for the celebration of the horse.  There were even men, young women and children slowly horseback riding along the narrow residential streets.  Many of these people probably rode from a quarter mile away where there are horse stables.  (I found a reference on the web that the neighborhood was designated an equestrian district in 1972.)

There is only one entry way and one exit out of the neighborhood, and that is at the terminus of the Peck Road exit off of the 605 Freeway south.  The Village sit on unincorporated Whittier and is landlocked by the Pomona Freeway, the 605 Freeway, and slices of land situating industrial buildings that are within the boundaries of the City of Industry. 

A freeway sound barrier separates the 605 San Gabriel Freeway from the Village.

Charming whimsy abounds.
All of the homes south of Pellissier Road were built in 1948.  There are several homes north of Pellissier Road on Famosa Street that were built in 1971.

Another blog posting explains the legacy of Francois Fidele Pellissier and his family for which Pellissier Road and nearby Pellissier Place are named for.

At every turn there is a galloping tribute.


Garden art.

From this side of the fence the horse appeared to be metallic.






Friday, October 15, 2010

Los Angeles' Downtown Central Library


I landed a part-time job at the Central Library at 5th and Flower Streets in August, 1976, during my second year of school at Los Angeles City College.  My civil service title was Messenger Clerk, and I retrieved books and other library materials from within the closed book stacks of the Social Sciences Department.  I also re-shelved books and filed government documents including thin sheets and thick volumes of legislative bills and reports.

The original building had two public floors, and a third floor that housed administrative and cataloging offices and a telephone switchboard room.  The third floor along the 5th Street side of the building also had amenities for staff that included restrooms, a dark room with sleeping cots, a snack bar, and an expansive employee break room that overlooked the Arco Towers, the Bonaventure Hotel and the rest of 5th and Flower.  From this vantage point, the employee open-air parking spaces could also be seen.  Today, the restaurant Cafe Pinot is situated on a portion of the former parking lot.

The postcard shown above is viewing the library from the east.  There used to be a walkway near 5th Street and Grand Avenue leading to the east entrance as seen in the postcard.  The east wing of the library included the Art and Music departments.  The lawn and most of the eastern facade is gone, resulting from the renovation and expansion, after the two library fires, that created many new floors to a new east wing below and above ground.

The Social Sciences Department was situated on the west wing on the 2nd floor; its neighboring departments were Science and Technology to the north, and the History Department to the south (today the Children's Department gets to enjoy the murals overhead).  Directly below Social Sciences was the Business and Economics Department on the 1st floor.  Also on the 1st floor of the west wing was Philosophy and Religion.

Labyrinth of Book Stacks

I guesstimate that more than 80 percent of the library collections were kept in closed-off areas.  These stacks were lit by bare 40-watt incandescent bulbs.  Also, only a chain across an open doorway deterred the public from trespassing into the staff areas.  The inner guts of the building consisted of the closed book stacks laid out within low-hanging tiers:  tiers 4 and 5 were in line with the public 2nd floor; tiers 2 and 3 took up the 1st floor.  If my memory serves, there were also tiers 6 and 7 (the 7th tier housed all the bound volumes of periodicals).  There were also book stacks in the basement level.  As a Messenger Clerk, I could travel up and down a set of stairs, or ride in an old-fashioned elevator with the metal accordian folding door.  This elevator went as far as the 3rd floor of the building, so this was the fastest way to get to the breakroom.

The tiers were designed with book shelves aligned from tier 7 all the way down to the basement, and there were slit-like cuts into the floors and ceilings to fit the book shelves.  This design allowed a book to faultily be pushed off a shelf and fall as far as it could go, conceivably falling from an upper tier all the way down to the basement level.  This open book shelf design enabled the historic arson fire on April 29th, 1986 to quickly spread and realize the Fire Department's worse fear in the 1926 building.

1986 Library Fire

My part-time job in Social Sciences had turned into a full-time clerk position around 1981.  But by the time of the fire, I was no longer working at the library because I had transferred to the Convention Center a month earlier.  By that weekend, however, I was one of thousands of volunteers to enter the unrecognizable space and pack water-damaged books in preparation for a freeze-drying salvage process.  Shockingly, the library was filled with emergency lighting, wooden planks, and people milling about with hard hats.  I recall we were urgently trying to meet the deadline at midnight to get as many boxes of books into the truck.  When I finished, my nostrils were black.  Back at the Convention Center, I noticed later that some of the vacant exhibition rooms were used to store the books during different stages.

Several years later, I transferred back to the Central Library and worked in the Save the Books store in the temporary library's location at the Design Center, 433 So. Spring Street.  The library moved back to the renovated building in 1993, while I had transferred out to City Hall.


A metal bookmark was a part of the fundraising merchandise.
This logo was printed on tee-shirts and book bags for sale in the store.
The Save the Books project was underwritten by the Atlantic Richfield Foundation.

Another fundraising idea involved the sale of laminated magazine pages that displayed fire-singed damage.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Monterey "Trailer" Park, Cal.

The old Monterey Park was dotted with trailer courts that proliferated with the popularity of traveling trailer vacations in the 1920s.  In the late 1940s trailers provided a small solution to the wide housing shortage for homecoming World War II soldiers.

Many of the trailer properties came under city scrutiny in the early 1970s.  Slum conditions existed alongside the trailer encampments.  The trailer locations were targeted for commercial development.  Some of the parks were clustered near Atlantic Boulevard and Garvey Avenue, and a few were northward on the Atlantic Boulevard strip between Emerson and Hellman Avenues.

They had names like "Cosmo", "Redtop" and "Royal."  Another, Hallman Trailer Court, was operated by D.A. Hallman, who called the city council's plans a "dictatorship."  Mr. Hallman, who was over 65 years of age at the time, fought against the city.  He succeeded, because the property was torn down only in recent years.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

"Superfund" Dump in Monterey Park, Cal.


My commute home eastward on the Pomona (60) Freeway requires that I drive pass a land formation situated before the approach of the Paramount Boulevard off-ramp.  It is not a natural formation.  It is a dump that grew to 640 feet high since it became a garbage landfill in 1948.

Prior to 1948, the area was a gravel and sand pit.  After that the city operated a garbage disposal there along with a private firm, and Operating Industries, Inc. took over in 1952.  The area is the southernmost point of the city and juts into Montebello.  In years past there were other privately-owned excavation operations along the edge of town:  The Higgins brickyard at 4700 Ramona Boulevard, along the northern boundary next to Alhambra; and the Davidson brickyard at the southwest, bordering unincorporated East Los Angeles.  Conversion of the former brickyards were mostly non-controversial.  The Davidson property became a part of Los Angeles Corporate Center development.

The Pomona Freeway segment through this area, constructed and opened by the Spring of 1967, split the landfill, and relegated 45 acres to the north of the freeway.  It was reported that the 45 acres hadn't been used as a dump since 1952.  The primarily 145 acres, now south of the new freeway, continued to receive hazardous materials.  Nearby in Montebello, new homes were constructed between 1976 and 1978.

The physical separation of the landfill caused by the freeway accentuated the fact that the landfill was in Monterey Park, but those residents affected by the smell and leaked chemicals were in Montebello.

After the dump closed in 1984, it became a "Superfund" site, which made it sound fun and good, but in actuality, the absolute opposite worse:  the federal Environmental Protection Agency designated the hazardous waste landfill a danger to community health in ways unforeseen and unknown when the regional water board authorized the dumping of chemical liquid wastes in 1954.  (Ironically, in 1959 the city of Monterey Park tried, unsuccessfully, to put another gravel pit owner, Lowry B. McCaslin, out of business, citing noise and health risks to neighboring residents.)

Within months of the closure of the Operating Industries, Inc. landfill in 1984, the Monterey Park city council swiftly announced plans to re-claim the 45-acres for a business development containing an auto center, discount outlets, a hotel and restaurants.  The community objected, with concerns about excavating possibly contaminated soil.  Further, the EPA maintained that the 45-acres were a part of the Superfund site.

Years dragged by:  in 1990, the EPA proposed covering the entire site with a plastic cover while extracting and treating harmful gases emitting from the trash heap would contain the significant stench.  In the ensuing years, the EPA billed all users in the history of the landfill, comprising of nearly 4,000 entities from small businesses to large corporations and even municipalities.  The Times-Mirror Co., Southern California Gas, the DWP, the MTA, the U.S. Navy, Coca-Cola, Atlantic Richfield, Beatrice/Hunt-Wesson Inc., Dunn-Edwards Corp., Georgia-Pacific Corp., and McDonnell Douglas Corp. to name a few.

At the close of 2001, an $340 million agreement was finalized among 177 companies.  Now 26 years later, this past April, an even narrower settlement implied 12 companies for a $3.8 million cleanup cost.  The latest companies include Halliburton Energy Services, Inc., Jaybee Manufacturing Corporation, and Princess Cruises Limited.  The EPA calculated that each of the 12 companies contributed more than 110,000 gallons of liquid waste.

I remember having to hold my nose while driving pass on the 60 Freeway .  I don't recall when the stink went away.  But lately, I notice brand new green pipes extending out from the landfill.